Health and wellbeing, financial security and the state of the environment are just some of issues on the government’s agenda that are also taxing the minds of HR professionals as they look at the future structure of the benefits packages available to staff.
However, workers believe that employers should first think about staff retention (48%) and matching benefits to employee needs (42%) when shaping the structure of their benefits packages. Nevertheless, providing for the health and wellbeing (41%), and financial wellbeing (37%) of staff as well as making sure that they have sufficient income on retirement (36%) were also key factors that workers identified when they were asked to pick three issues that employers should take into account in structuring benefits packages.
It makes good business sense for employers to include a range of health and wellbeing perks in their benefits packages. A healthy workforce means good productivity and healthy profits. Not only are employers now considering perks that help sick staff to return to work more quickly, such as private medical insurance, but also benefits that can help prevent absence such as health screening and nutritional services.
However, as far as workers are concerned, their health and wellbeing is first and foremost their own responsibility, with 91% of respondents subscribing to this view. Nevertheless, 43% believe that the employer should have some degree of responsibility and 35% the government. There is room for improvement in the provision of health and wellbeing perks in existing benefits packages, as 53% of respondents say that employers provide less than is needed, compared with 5% who say there is more than is necessary. Just over a fifth (22%) of respondents believe that their packages include sufficient health and wellbeing benefits.
One of the main causes of sickness absence is stress. This can be prompted by a number of factors such as heavy workload, relationship problems and also money worries. With an economic slowdown upon us, this last factor could become more of an issue for the workplace not only in relation to stress-induced absence but also with regard to loss of productivity, as staff take time out during working hours to try and manage their affairs. The UK population’s obsession with spending rather than saving and its general lack of financial capability is causing the government concern and it is considering setting up a generic financial advice service. But employers should not rely on this as staff need financial education in order to make key benefits decisions around pensions, employee share schemes and flexible benefits. This is particularly the case with regard to pensions, as employers are closing defined benefit pension schemes, which have historically provided an adequate income on retirement to members, and leaving staff to navigate the myriad of investment choices offered by defined contribution schemes. To ensure workers do save for the future, the government is putting in place a national pensions savings plan with auto enrolment alongside compulsory employer and employee contributions. While workers generally accept they are responsible for their own financial wellbeing (89% of respondents take this view), more than half (56%) believe the employer has some responsibility and 42% the government. Again, there is scope for employers to include more financial perks, as half of respondents say there is insufficient provision while 5% say there is more than is necessary. Only a quarter of respondents say they have enough financial perks.
The government is also keen to reduce CO2 emissions in a bid to protect the environment. In the benefits arena it has given backing to tax-efficient bikes-for-work schemes and has penalised those who opt to drive gas guzzlers through the tax system, by providing incentives to those who choose green vehicles. An increasing number of employers are following its lead by implementing bike loans, restricting choice to vehicles with low CO2 emissions and also introducing carbon-offsetting options in flexible benefits schemes. This action is in part out of a desire to boost their corporate social responsibility credentials not only with outsiders, but also with existing employees. However, although half of respondents claim that their employers’ packages make insufficient provision for green and ethical benefits, only 9% of respondents say that they should consider environmental and ethical issues when shaping benefits packages.